Roddy Williams – The Atheist Poet

2011

the map (2011)

hanging like a victim
was a lampshade
shrouding a bulb that died alone.
I explore its shadow thrown by a table lamp
onto the ceiling
abstracted to a tonal map.
ropes of tangled trim become
a coastal region
broken up with bright lakes and lagoons
bordering a dark interior.

I fell asleep in this halflight
and dreamed you on the loopcast beach
melting into the waters like a swan.
I turned my back on the sea
and began the long walk
from the coast
to the dead centre.


the wheel (2011)

the wheel has turned its edge from light.
I try to race it round the rim.
I cannot beat the speed of dark
or catch the light before it leaves
to go back to gleam the old days.

if i could stay inside one day
running to the east from nightfall
keeping night and time from letting
further grains slip through the pelvis
of the hourglass, maybe. maybe

if I run faster, maybe then
I could stay out of the shadow,
a flowing wave over the clock
lowering the tone they say, they’re
standing there in twilight, waiting.


may 2011

a spanish plume is threatened, says the man
who does the weather. flights of huge arrows
hang poised over the ocean, aimed at hull.
very rare these spanish plumes, rare as a
celine dion song that doesn’t scare dogs
and so I wait, watching for the shadows
of the arrows to pass over my house.
outside I see the faces uplifted
oddly patient, like justin bieber fans
waiting for him to grow up and get a
proper haircut. the sky remains empty.
there is a sense of hope melting away.

celine will never sing that one good song.
no great arrows. justin will never change.


Angel (2011)

My angel came to me again last week
just at the moment that I needed him.
A voice, that’s all, a voice from out of time,
a voice that poured love into me until
I creaked and shone like a greedy balloon.

I’m beginning to think I imagine him,
as he speaks, but never appears
and always at a time of crisis.
Even Aslan shows his face
now and then. It’s very odd.

I’ve texted him since
but got no answer.
Not Aslan obviously.

I don’t have a number for him.


tom waits is missing (2011)

I was discussing Tom Waits earlier, having today listened to his ‘Real Gone’ album, an amazing bit of American Gothic Blues. I was thinking while listening to it that if David Lynch is stuck for someone to provide additional music for his new ‘Twin Peaks’ series (yes, it is coming back apparently) then Tom would be ideal. Indeed, Tom himself would make an ideal resident for this most surreal of American small towns.
Many years ago, I was having another discussion about music in general and was asked if I had any Tom Waits albums.
‘Yes,’ I replied, quite confidently. ‘I can’t remember what it’s called, but it’s a CD with a black and yellow cover.’
Later, the thought of the CD returned to me. After a fruitless search through the shelves, and through my memories to try and recall what tracks might have been on it, I came to the conclusion that I had never had the CD in the first place. Why I imagined I had was a bit of a mystery, but the mind is an odd thing and we can convince ourselves of all sorts of nonsense, particularly in regard to the past.
I started writing a poem about this incident which went through an amazing process of rewrites and revisions over a ridiculous number of years (during which I acquired a ridiculous number of Tom Waits albums and became a committed fan).
Serendipitously, the poem ended up as an extended metaphor for something else completely. It was published by London Grip in 2011.

tom waits is missing

we can’t recite our canon of cds
unless we have just three
or too much time on our hands.

but we know them when we see them
like the faces of celebrity saints
from the hello bible.

i believed
that tom waits was present,
safe as gospel
between the book of verve
and the books of whitesnake
but he’s not.

the title hovers at the edge of recall
like a maddening psalm. it tests my faith.
i pray for tracks
into empty silence, void.

then i reach that point of
shuddering revelation

the liberating moment when
i’m suddenly aware
of the loss of
something that was never there.


Evolution of a poem – I

Sometimes poems seem to appear from nowhere, or rather a seed is often lodged unnoticed somewhere in that part of the brain reserved for random back office wondering. Whether it grows or not is usually out of my control. Now and again though it feeds on some other nutritious ideas and comes lumbering into the consciousness.
Some time ago I was chatting with a friend about music and Tom Waits was brought into the conversation. Not the man himself obviously. If we’d been chatting with Tom Waits about music I’d have felt too unworthy to voice an opinion. Anyhoo…
‘I’ve only got one Tom Waits album,’ I said.
‘Which one?’
‘I don’t know. I think it’s yellow and has a saxophone on the front.’
‘Swordfishtrombone?’
‘I think so.’
The conversation shot off on a tangent here and I recall we drifted on to methods of assassinating Celine Dion without causing undue mess or ending up in jail.
However something was nagging at me throughout the day.
My certainty of the ownership of the Tom Waits album was undiminished but I found the details worryingly vague. No tracks were unspooling in my head. Was it ‘Swordfishtrombone’?
So, I hied me to yonder CD cabinet and, lo and behold…. nothing between Velvet Underground and Rick Wakeman. There was no Tom Waits album. The realisation was so unsettling that I later sketched out the beginnings of the poem.
My usual procedure is to work the poem to a point where I think I can do no more and then put it away for a while in a state of incubation. (I shall deal with the process of development more fully at another time). This is very important. Looking at it again with a fresh eye always reveals the weak areas, repetitions and redundancies and a redraft will be called for. This can be an extended process. It was quite a while before I realised that I had – presumably unconsciously – included some religious references. To employ another religious reference I had an epiphany and saw that what I was working on could be seen as a wider metaphor for belief itself.
After more redrafts and rejections ‘Tom Waits is Missing’ was finally published by London Grip, Bless ’em!.
To be honest I was about to give up on it as it had been submitted to nearly every magazine on my regular submission list so please take this as a salutary lesson to persevere.
Anyway, this is it. Please feel free to leave feedback.

Tom Waits is Missing (2011)

we can’t recite our canon of cds
unless we have just three
or too much time on our hands.

but we know them when we see them
like the faces of celebrity saints
from the hello bible.

i believed
that tom waits was present,
safe as gospel
between the book of verve
and the books of whitesnake
but he’s not.

the title hovers at the edge of recall
like a maddening psalm. it tests my faith.
i pray for tracks
into empty silence, void.

then i reach that point of
shuddering revelation

the liberating moment when
i’m suddenly aware
of the loss of
something that was never there.